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Canadian Illustrator Faith Erin Hicks Is Making A Name For Herself In The Publishing World

Courtesy of Shani Friedman
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Hicks, the accomplished author and artist behind "Zombies Calling" and "The War at Ellsmere", did the full-colour artwork for the new young adult graphic novel "Brain Camp, written by Americans Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan. In its review, Booklist wrote, "Kim and Klavan, who balanced adventure and kid's social issues so well in 'City of Spies' (2010), do the same in another well-rounded adventure here, as the climax mixes with genuine insight into dealing with parents, fitting into a new crowd, and handling the pressures of performance. Hicks' line work is cool enough to assuage older readers who might be suspicious of the summer-camp setting."

A Vancouver native, Hicks grew up in the Toronto suburbs and attended Sheridan College for animation, graduating in 2004. A year later she moved to Halifax to work for Copernicus Studios and today is enjoying success as a freelancer.

After Hicks and I bonded over Halifax, she chatted with ATC for an interview.

Q: When did you start drawing and when did you realize you had a knack for it?

A: Ah, the old talent question. Honestly, I don't believe I'm talented. I don't think I have a knack for drawing. Drawing is really really hard for me, and I don't know why I decided at a fairly late age (late teens) to pick it up and start making comics. What you see in my artwork is the result of years and years of very dedicated work, hours spent drawing thousands of comic pages. I tend to think that people who are naturally skilled at drawing don't have to spend that long developing their craft. They start out good and develop into something great. I started out crappy and developed into something decent. But as for when I began comics, I put my very first online comic page on the internet in 1999, so that's a good starting point.

Q: How did you get interested in animation? What were these online comics that you worked on?

A: I really enjoyed the movies Disney released in the 90s: "Beauty and the Beast", "Mulan", "Tarzan", and wanted to be a part of that. Later I learned I was much happier working on my own stories rather than someone else's. As for comics, I started drawing my own online comic "Demonology 101" in school.

Q: What was "Demonology 101"? Did you just do that for kicks? Did you get any attention from it or was it just a way for you to hone your craft?

A: "Demonology 101" was a comic that I did from 1999 to 2004. When I finished it, it was over 700 pages long. I started it because I was very drawn to comics as an art form, but there were few comics I wanted to read, and fewer that had characters (especially female characters) that I enjoyed. So I decided to fill that gap. I pretty much taught myself how to draw. Comics are a great crash course in drawing. They force you to learn fast.

I had a few thousand followers. I didn't get internet famous from doing the comic, but enough people read it that I felt it was worthwhile.

Q: Is Sheridan College well known for its animation program? Were there any graduates whose work you followed? Did you get a BA from Sheridan or was this a specialized program that you went into after toiling in the animation world for a while after high school?

A: When I was at Sheridan (I graduated in 2004) it was a 3 year college diploma program. I was one of the final years to take the 3 year program, and now it's changed over to a 4 year Bachelors. In between high school and Sheridan I spent a few years in University working on an English/Art degree before deciding I wanted to do animation. I wasn't familiar with many Sheridan graduates, but knew it had a reputation for churning out excellent artists.

Q: What's Copernicus Studios and what did you do for them?

A: Copernicus is an animation studio in Halifax that deals primarily with Flash animation. I worked for them from 2005-2008 doing a bunch of different animation-related jobs.

Q: Can you explain the difference between drawing and animation?

A: The main difference is that when you animate, you are making a drawing literally move, as opposed to indicating movement with a single static image, as in comics. Animation requires 12 to 24 drawings a second. So if you draw someone punching another person in the face, you do thousands of drawings to get that movement right. I don't enjoy animating. I can do it if I try, but it's not where my passion lies. In comics, it's one drawing. I just don't have the patience to animate. I like the impact of a single drawing.

Q: Are there any illustrators and/or comic book artists whose work inspires you and/or that you admire?

A: I am deeply in love with the work of Naoki Urasawa, a Japanese manga artist. His comics (he currently has three series published in English: "Monster", "Pluto" and "20th Century Boys") opened my eyes to the possibilities of serialized, long form storytelling, and using your characters as actors. I really love his work. I'm also mad for American cartoonists like Jeff Smith ("Bone"), Nate Powell, and Jim Rugg. I have a whole huge list of artists, but those are usually my top guys.

Q: How did you hook up with the "Brain Camp" people? Did you ever meet the authors and if not, was that strange or is that typical?

A: First Second Books, publisher of "Brain Camp", contacted me over the internet about trying out for a script they'd bought, then titled "The Fielding Course". I drew up some pages from the script and got the job. Goes to show, you never know who's looking at your website. I haven't yet had a chance to meet Susan and Laurence, though I hope to in the fall [at ComicCon]. I don't know if the experience was strange or typical, as it was my first time drawing a comic book script that wasn't my own... the script was done by the time I started drawing, so it was just a matter of following Susan and Laurence's instructions.

Q: How long did you work on the project?

A: It took me about 5 1/2 months to draw "Brain Camp".

Q: What's the animation scene in Canada like right now, and specifically in Nova Scotia since you've been working freelance? Are you doing comic books for American publishers, Canadian or both?

A: The animation scene in Nova Scotia used to be a vibrant, wonderful community, but the recession hit it hard, and pretty much all the studios have closed down. Most of my friends have left for greener pastures in Ottawa or Toronto. It's very sad. I keep hoping some big project will come through and there'll finally be work for everyone, but it hasn't happened yet. I was very lucky to get out when I did. I draw for whomever I can get work with. Mostly my comics have been for American publishers, First Second and SLG Publishing, but I've done small freelance stuff for local publishers/newspapers here in Nova Scotia.

Q: What are you working on now with "Brain Camp" behind you?

A: I just finished writing and drawing my next graphic novel, "Friends With Boys", which will be published by First Second. It's about a girl entering her first year of high school after being homeschooled. I'm an ex-homeschooled kid, so it's a little bit autobiographical, although not really.

Q: What would be your dream project?

A: Honestly, having the financial means to write and draw my very own graphic novel fulltime - "Friends With Boys" - was my dream project. Now I just hope I can follow it up with another graphic novel. It's really a dream come true.

Q: What do you like to do in Halifax when you're not working?

A: Sleep! That's pretty much my life. Sleeping and working. But in the off chance I do have a couple minutes to myself, I like going out sketching with friends, or just seeing people. It can be isolating working at home on comics for 12 hours a day, six days a week, which is what I've been doing since January. So when I can, I try and escape the drawing desk and go outside.

Q: Is illustration what you hope to be doing in five or ten years?

A: I hope I'll be drawing comics until I'm 90.

"Brain Camp" by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, is available now from First Second.

Check out the trailer here:

Brain Camp - trailer

Find it in your local bookstore or online:



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